ORLANDO, Fla. - A former corrections officer with the Central Florida Reception Center faces felony charges for what investigators say was a lucrative side-hustle. Lexon Barrington was arrested after a nearly two-year criminal investigation, subsequently losing his job of seven months. Investigators say he smuggled cell phones, tobacco products and synthetic cannabinoids into the center and then sold the contraband to the inmates.
"Illegal drugs, cellphones and weapons are highly lucrative sources of power," Joseph Edwards, who is a prison warden at the RMC in Lake Butler, said.
They say inmates' relatives would pay up to $150 for Barrington to slip the inmate the contraband. One inmate was found to have made more than 3,000 calls and sent more than 8,000 text messages all from behind bars. Investigative reporter Daralene Jones learned some of those communications show the inmates were working with Barrington to increase his business.
Barrington, a military veteran, was paid $33,000 a year to work at the prison.
Jones started looking into the contraband issues in Florida's prisons in 2017. She learned that about 70 correctional officers were arrested for similar crimes since January 2015. Last fall, state investigators announced they arrested six female corrections officers for selling contraband inside a prison. The state has also taken intiative to confiscate more contraband items. Jones reported confiscations of cell phones doubled between 2016 and 2017.
The problem concerns prison wardens so much that last month they asked state lawmakers to increase the pay for corrections officers in hopes of reducing the contraband business.
"It's a way for officers to basically add to what they're making per hour," former inmate Christopher Bryant told Jones during an interview in 2017. He reached out to Channel 9 after seeing our report about an inmate who used a contraband cell phone to terrorize a rape victim and her children from inside prison.
However, when the Florida Department of Corrections presented its budget to the state Legislature last week, it did not include a focus on hiring practices and had little funding for additional body and vehicle scanners.
"I think this shows the enormity of the challenge with then priorities of the department are to first fund constitutionally required health care," said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg.
Jones learned that only eight of the 70 corrections officers arrested on suspicsion of selling contraband were sentenced to prison. Charges were dropped against the majority of them because they were first-time offenders.
As for Barrington, he posted bond and it awaiting his next court appearance.
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